But Johnson was hesitant to talk about his latest memorable performance, which pushed him to 1,004 yards on the season and cemented his yards-per-carry total at 8.7, among the highest in college football. Johnson and his teammates had arrived Thursday content with spending their holiday preparing for what they hoped would be a proper sendoff for their senior class and a springboard to launch into their offseason. But Johnson’s effort, highlighted by second-quarter touchdown runs of 62 and 30 yards, was overshadowed by the same kind of self-inflicted errors that haunted Maryland all season.
The Terrapins committed 11 penalties and gave the ball away four times — three fumbles lost and an interception all by senior quarterback Perry Hills — and Maryland came away with just three points on consecutive red-zone trips in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter.
Johnson, who finished the season with 10 plays of 40 yards or more in his final 10 games, nearly had another with a 61-yard gain down to the Boston College 17-yard line with just over nine minutes remaining. But an official review ruled he had stepped out of bounds at the Boston College 49, and three plays later, Hills bobbled a snap before pitching to Kenneth Goins Jr. on fourth and one. It was the kind of sequence that defined Maryland’s return to the postseason after the Terps missed out on a bowl trip a season ago.
While D.J. Durkin reflected after the game on the foundation his seniors provided during his first season as head coach, he also told his younger core to return to College Park ready to work. There was plenty of difficulty in playing with mostly recruits from the Randy Edsall era in 2016, but there are promising pieces on the roster that will be complemented by a 2017 recruiting class that boasts 28 commits and currently is rated 17th best in the country by 247sports.com.
“I know this: We have the right character and substance on our team. We have to continue to get better, keep developing the guys that we have and keep bringing in players through recruiting into our program,” Durkin said.
With Hills moving on, Maryland is expected to have several intriguing options at quarterback next season, which will include rising sophomores Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager, as well as highly touted incoming freshman Kasim Hill and North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson. Johnson will return to a deep, talented backfield, while sophomore wide receiver D.J. Moore will be back to spearhead the perimeter after a productive second season in which he accounted for 41 catches for six touchdowns and 637 yards receiving.
Maryland also will have solid returners on defense, including linebackers Jermaine Carter Jr. and Shane Cockerille, who was ruled ineligible for Monday’s game. Maryland will also bring back sophomore safety Darnell Savage Jr., who had a key fourth-quarter interception Monday, as well as redshirt freshman linebacker Isaiah Davis, who was praised by Durkin for finishing with seven tackles while starting in place of Cockerille.
But where Maryland most needs fortification is on the offensive and defensive lines, which struggled for much of Durkin’s first campaign. The offensive front, which was expected to be one of the team’s best units during fall camp, is loaded with young talent. Starters Damian Prince, Derwin Gray, Brendan Moore and Terrance Davis will all be back, but Durkin hopes the unit will learn from a difficult showing Monday.
“We got to get better up front,” Durkin said. “We have to man up and play up there. At times we did that, and at times we didn’t. And that certainly hurt us,” Durkin said.
Johnson currently has 20 goals set for his life, a list that was just revised about three weeks ago. One of those checkpoints was to reach 1,000 yards rushing for a season. Achieving that goal provided some solace Monday, especially given that just two years ago he was a relatively unknown recruit from tiny Fort Hill High School in Cumberland, Md. But like his team, he has bigger ambitions heading into next season, which will kick off Sept. 2 at Texas.
“You can’t change time. You can’t go back in time. So that’s the end result,” Johnson said. “So we have to come back in the winter and work.”